Hemant Sapient

Don’t believe the evening news. Especially in Virginia.

WSET (The local ABC affiliate) did a story on the Blasphemy Challenge and the response given from a professor at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. More on that in a sec. If you want to watch the segment, click here, then click on “Watch the eVideo.”

They interviewed Brian Sapient, Blasphemy Challenge co-founder, over the phone. Here’s what they showed on the screen as they interviewed him:

HemantSapient

In case you can’t tell, that’s not Sapient… Unless Sapient suddenly became browner and changed his name to Hemant. (See the banner picture at the top of this site.)

How on earth anyone can mistake “Blasphemy Challenge Guy” with “Friendly Atheist” beats the hell out of me…

So at this point, I’m *really* trusting this news segment. Then they say that the professor is coming to Sapient’s studios and Sapient may be going to Liberty University.

Of course, all of that is also incorrect.

Here’s the story.

On February 7, in front of 4,000 students in the Campus Church, Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty University told the Blasphemy Challenge folks to bring it on.

No, really. He did.

“…to any one of you [atheists], I say, ‘bring it,’ because I believe that by using rational, coherent rules of logic and law that the God who created those rules of law will manifest himself.”

(Now I’m getting a visual in my head of Caner in a cheerleading outfit… *shudder*)

Liberty University even issued a press release about it. The release ends in this line:

The Rational Response Squad has yet to comment on Caner’s challenge.

Why didn’t the RRS comment?

Because Caner never actually asked them. He simply made the proclamation in front of everyone except the people he was challenging.

And so the Rational Response Squad was deluged with emails from Liberty students asking why they weren’t accepting this challenge. This challenge that they had never even heard about. (For some reason, the RRS doesn’t keep up with the press releases from Liberty University.)

However, once they figured out what was happening, the RRS did issue a response.

They’re not planning on going to Liberty (it wouldn’t be neutral ground, they say). But they are proposing steps towards a live, broadcast audio interview. No one would be traveling, but it would be an agreeable arrangement for both sides.

While you’re at that site, you may notice an interesting email RRS received from a Liberty student. The student says:

Trust me; the man [Caner] is not able to beat you in an argument… I was greatly looking forward to you making a fool out of the students’ idol.

(Which makes you wonder why this student is at Liberty in the first place…)

In regards to the live audiocast, Caner has begun talks with the RRS about making it happen. Logistics are being worked out.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian, fundamental, Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, WSET, ABC, Blasphemy Challenge, Brian Sapient, Hemant Mehta, Friendly Atheist, Ergun Caner, God, Rational Response Squad[/tags]

  • txatheist

    I love the way you can laugh at your “browner” status. It’s absolutely hilarious. Way to go Brian, I mean Hemant :)

  • http://www.conversationattheedge.com/ Helen

    Hemant, maybe it’s because they think you are more handsome than Brian Sapient.

    That’s probably the explanation I’d go with if that happened to me, anyway ;-)

  • http://inthenuts.blogspot.com King Aardvark

    Nice pic Hemant. Free publicity for you.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Brian Mehta

    Hemant Sapient,

    It’s amazing how with a little research and attention to detail, anyone can get a story right. Atheists, drink bottled water in Virginia.

    In Reason,

    Brian Mehta

  • http://blasphemychallenge.blogspot.com Frank Walton

    If Caner goes on Sapient’s show, Sapient better go on Caner’s show. If Sapient doesn’t comply, he’s a coward. Pure and simple.

  • Tom

    I am proudly an LU student. In regard to the email from the LU student in the article above: this idea is not held by the majority of LU students. I am not sure why he said this. Most are in full support of Dr. Caner. By the way, we respect Caner greatly, but he is not our idol. Jesus Christ is. Also, the reason Caner did not issue his challenge directly to the RRS is because he was responding more to those who use youtube as a way to take the challenge.

  • Karen

    Also, the reason Caner did not issue his challenge directly to the RRS is because he was responding more to those who use youtube as a way to take the challenge.

    That’s absolutely no excuse and you know it. It doesn’t matter what audience you’re primarily trying to reach. If you’re issuing a serious challenge to an individual or group and calling them out by name, the lowest-level of politeness and good form dictates that you INFORM that person or group at the time the challenge is issued so they have a chance to respond in a timely manner.

    Leaving RRS in the dark and having Brian find out via a news station report, is just a crappy way to treat anybody. It doesn’t reflect well on Dr. Caner’s integrity, which doesn’t actually surprise me considering what is taught at LU.

  • Tom

    That’s absolutely no excuse and you know it. It doesn’t matter what audience you’re primarily trying to reach. If you’re issuing a serious challenge to an individual or group and calling them out by name, the lowest-level of politeness and good form dictates that you INFORM that person or group at the time the challenge is issued so they have a chance to respond in a timely manner.

    Keep in mind we are challenging ALL who have the kind of mindset that the RRS does, not just the RRS. We are challenging both the cynic and the skeptic. Also as far as sound logic and politeness goes, your last comment about what is taught at LU is first an AD Hominem fallacy and a Red Herring fallacy. That is simply not logical. You are attacking LU and diverting attention from the argumment at hand. Secondly why would you comment on what is taught at LU? Are we not polite? Do we treat people crappy? Have you ever been to LU? Keep in mind we are not attacking any one individual. We are challenging those with questions and those who wish to discuss Christianity and God to agree to use sound logic and agree that the Bible is an old book. That is all plain and simple.

  • Karen

    Tom, is this your school’s own press release or not?

    On February 7th in Liberty University’s Campus Church (listen to the podcast), in front of more than 4000 college students, Liberty Theological Seminary president, Dr. Ergun Caner, decried the irrationality of the so-called “Rational Response Squad.”

    You can dissemble and backpeddle all you want, that doesn’t change the fact that Caner named the RRS, specifically, in the very first sentence of his statement. That means he has an obligation to notify them of what he’s doing if he’s civil and wants to play fair. What makes it worse is that he ends the press release with this completely disingenuous statement:

    The Rational Response Squad has yet to comment on Caner’s challenge.

    As Hemant pointed out, it’s dishonest to make it sound as if RSS is hesitating to comment when they were unaware of the challenge.

    As for LU, I know enough about what passes for “science” there to conclude that the dishonesty is endemic.

  • http://randomneuronsfiring.blogspot.com Bill Snedden

    I used to live in Lynchburg. In fact, I’ve actually met Jerry Falwell. In person, he can be sort of a nice guy.

    But unfortunately Dr. Caner’s “tactics” are all too commonly experienced in this “war o’ the worldviews”. As far as the “righteous” are concerned, PR always seems to take precedence over common decency or integrity…

  • Tom

    I agree absolutly that Caner named the RRS. There is no question of that. I was there when he did it. Again, remeber this is also a challenge also to other cynics and skeptics. This is the primary reason he did not do this. And as for your comment on “what passes for science,” how can you say that this is dishonest?

  • Karen

    I agree absolutly that Caner named the RRS. There is no question of that. I was there when he did it.

    So then you agree that when you challenge someone specifically and publicly, it’s only fair and courteous to let them know about it in a timely fashion, right? Isn’t that the way you’d like to be treated if the situation were reversed?

    Again, remeber this is also a challenge also to other cynics and skeptics. This is the primary reason he did not do this.

    I not sure what you mean. Are you saying that because Caner named others in the challenge, that means he has no obligation to notify any of them? If so, I disagree. That just means he has an obligation to notify all of them. Which can be very easily, quickly and inexpensively done in these electronic times, of course.

    And as for your comment on “what passes for science,” how can you say that this is dishonest?

    According to this video, which hasn’t been refuted after nearly four months, LU has dinosaur bones on display that it asserts are a few thousand years old. In fact, no dinosaur fossils are younger than 65 million years old. So it’s blatantly dishonest, and an educational disgrace, to put false dates on them.

    If you value honesty and education, maybe you should take Richard Dawkins advice to leave LU and go to a proper university.

  • Tom

    Karen, You must realize that one is able to veiw Caner’s entire challenge via the internet. You may want to do this to hear EXACTLY what he said. Perhaps he should have gone to the RRS and issued the challenge directly. But just as they make their challenge through the internet, so did we. Should different measures have taken place to contact RRS or others challeged? Possibly, but now that really is not important because communication IS going on between Caner and the RRS. As far as the Dawkins video is concerned, I have seen this. I actually have many friends who went when Dawkins spoke. What the video does not show however, is the question and answer session in which many LU students and professors challenged Dawkins on his beliefs. It is a very one sided video. Definitly selective perception. And yes, actually we do have dinosaur fossils that are only a few thousand years old. In fact, the earth itself is not even a million years old. If you believe these fossils are so old, how come they are often found at different levels in the geologic column in some cases at the same level as humans and animals we have today. Again it is not logical for this to be called dishonest. By that logic I could in the same way say you are dishonest by believing the earth is millions of years old, or that we evolved from something. (I do not know if you believe in evolution or not because this is not something we have discussed.) People once believed the earth was flat, were they dishonest. No, they were just wrong. When many still believed this some knew the earth was round because the Bible said so. Finally as we contnue discussing, I would appreciate if you refrained from using rude remarks. I am at more than a proper university, I am at a remarkable one. That would be nearly the same as me calling you stupid, which I have not and will not do.

  • HappyNat

    Tom,

    Sounds like you don’t believe in evolution. Do you also not believe in paragraphs? :)

  • Tom

    Well HappyNat, I do actually believe in paragraphs. And I usually keep things in a correct format. Just not when I am really sleep deprived. :)

  • Siamang

    Dawkins’ entire presentation is available online, including the numerous challenges and statements by Liberty U students/staff/faculty. Pretty sure Karen’s seen the entire thing.

    I do hope your “dinosaur” bones are of the avian variety. All non-avian dinosaurs died out ~65 MYA.

    Otherwise, please explain to me why no animal predating the Pleistocene have ever been found in my local dig, The La Brea Tar Pits.

  • Karen

    Karen, You must realize that one is able to veiw Caner’s entire challenge via the internet. You may want to do this to hear EXACTLY what he said. Perhaps he should have gone to the RRS and issued the challenge directly. But just as they make their challenge through the internet, so did we. Should different measures have taken place to contact RRS or others challeged? Possibly, but now that really is not important because communication IS going on between Caner and the RRS.

    Tom, I’ve seen the challenge. And I’m glad you can admit that it should have been done differently, which was the original point. You may think it’s “not important” now, and water under the bridge, but I think it is important if you’re a person of integrity to play fair right from the start.

    That “integrity” business is something that a lot of us non-religious people take quite seriously and it is very important to us. We think Jesus was on to something ancient and integral when he talked about “doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

    Another thing that’s important to us – and to me particularly – is honesty and accuracy. Having educators take fossils that are millions of years old and tell impressionable young college students that they are thousands of years old in order to bolster a minority religious viewpoint is simply dishonest and inaccurate. It’s indoctrination of the worst kind, and I’m sorry that you’ve fallen victim to it.

    If you watch the Dawkins clip I linked to (Siamang’s right, I’ve seen the entire lecture, it’s available in full at Dawkins’ website), you’ll see that he explains the science behind the dating of fossils. He also explains how far off the LU estimates are – by a factor of a million, which isn’t trivial.

    There is all kinds of information online, in books, on television, in scientific journals that you can look into if you’re committed to honesty and accuracy, as I am, and to learning everything you can about the world for yourself instead of being spoon-fed indoctrination.

    Good luck on your journey of growth and understanding, Tom. You seem like a nice guy. The world is a big, beautiful place that’s well worth exploring first-hand. Don’t just listen to one viewpoint – investigate for yourself and find out what other people have to say about things. You may be amazed how much knowledge is out there, and how wonderful it is to understand it all.

  • Tom

    Karen, I do see that things possibly could have been done differently. I am still not sure if it was a matter of integrety or not. But we have discussed that issue enough.

    I, along with all sincere follower of Christ, do believe in integrity. Obviously I believe that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us. I also believe strongly, as you do, in honesty and accuracy. It is my belief that the Bible is the infallible, inerrant Word of the One and only God who created all that we know to be existence. Just because you, or Dawkins, or anyone believe the earth is millions of years old does not make it to be true. And yes some scientist do show evidence of it being that old, but I believe this evidemce to be false. There is also scientific proof that does not support this. I am also not victim to some unfair, untrue indoctrination. If I did not already believe these things I would not have come to LU.

    The things Dawkins discusses in the video, even though is has not been refuted in four months, I do not believe. In fact, I do not believe anythings Dawkins has said. I would rather believe the Bible which has NEVER been refuted in any way. Many have tried, but the more they study it the more they see it is true. There is also one more point that I would like to make that no one can argue. This is, that Jesus Christ as completly changed my life. I can not image living without Him. No one can argue a changed life.

    I do appreciate your comments in your last paragraph. In my opinion it takes much more faith to believe in evolution than in intellegent design by a sovereign Creator. In fact Romans 1 talks about us seeing God reveiled in nature, and that we are without excuse before Him. I also challenge you not to listen to just one viewpoint. I do not know if you have ever read the Bible, or truly studied it, but I challenge you to do this. I pray that you discover the Way, Truth, and Life that is Jesus Christ.

  • Tom

    Siamang, unfortunately I am not sure if the fossils are under the avian variety. I am not sure why that would matter though, being that the earth is not millions of years old. I do appreciate your comment.

  • Siamang

    Is it a bird?

    All other dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago.

    I am not sure why that would matter though, being that the earth is not millions of years old.

    The fact that you assert such a thing, in the face of all scientific discovery of the last two centuries is breathtaking.

    Do you even have an answer to why the folks at my local dig, the La Brea Tar Pits have yet to pull out a dinosaur? Why is it that no matter how many bones they pull out, they’ve never, in 100 years of digging, found any animal from before the pleistocene, which is exactly what mainstream science would predict.

    They’ve dug up (and continue to this very day) THOUSANDS upon thousands of individual prehistoric animals, and not ONE of them was anything that “shouldn’t be there”.

    Scientists have a very simple answer: only animals alive since the pleistocene will be found in the pools of tar that first started bubbling up 38,000 years ago. If the world is only around 6000 years old, there should be all kind of animals in there. But if it’s much older than that, there shouldn’t.

    But what’s YOUR answer? Let’s say that me and my wife and daughter drive over to Wilshire Blvd and visit the George C. Page museum and tell them how their science is wrong. What do we tell them? What’s the Liberty U answer for why they never have, in 100 years of digging, come across the extinct mammal titantothere or the ancient horse mesohippus? Never a Brontops or a Hyracodon? Not just dinosaurs, but MAMMALS said to be long extinct by mainstream science. Quite stunning that thousands and thousands of animals have been found, but not ONE of them contradicts an old earth.

    Science allows me to predict, with amazing certainty, that the giant mammal by the name of brontotherium will never, EVER be found in the tar pits of La Brea, even though we find their fossils just a couple hours drive away in death valley.

    How can I make this prediction? Because brontotherium died out about 32 million years before the tar came bubbling up along the Miracle Mile in L.A.

    They pull out hundreds of fossils a day in the summer months, and every single one of them is another piece of evidence for an old earth and evolution, and another strike against a young earth.

    Ever seen a black sand beach? They have them in hawaii. The sand is finely polished lava rock, warn away by millions of years of pounding surf, until it’s tiny.

    No volcano in the world belches sand. They belch lava which hardens into solid rock.

    Every grain of sand on every beach in the world started out as rock. How long do you think it took to turn all those rocks into sand? You may think a worldwide flood will do it, but answer me this: How can you hit a rock with enough water to turn it into sand, but stay EXACTLY where it is and now wash over to the other side of the world.

    Black sand beaches… the sand stays on the beach. The very beach where the sand was created from rock, over millions of years of gentle pounding by wave after wave.

    Explain to me the Great Barrier Reef. Coral grows at less than 1/3 of an inch a year. If you get lucky, maybe a couple centimeters in a year. You can test this in a salt water aquarium. Friends of mine keep living coral, they know how long it takes to grow it.

    So explain to me the Great Barrier Reef. It’s a living system of living coral on top of thousands of feet of calcite coral deposits that’s so large it can be seen from outer space. It is over 1,600 miles long, and takes up an area over 340,000 square kilometers.

    Mainstream science says that took millions of years. Remember, I’m not just talking about the top layer of living coral here. I’m talking thousands of feet of deposited coral skeletons, calcium carbonite, upon which only the very top layer is living.

    Explain to me the marshall islands. These are islands entirely made of coral, rising 4000 feet or more off the sea floor.

    The actual life-cycle of these reefs was full of ebb and flow. Growth and retreat. The reefs around the marshall islands actually date about 40 million years old.

    But just a simple physical measurement reveals that they are at least 30 times older than young earthers think that the entire universe has existed.

    All these questions, and millions upon millions more unanswerable by a young earth hypothesis.

    You are being brainwashed there at LU. LEAVE it. Do not let them make you a zombie. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    Get your science from NASA. Get it from the Smithsonian Institute. Get it from the National Academies of Science. Get it from Cambridge, and MIT, and SMU and TCU and Notre Dame. But get some real science. They’re filling your head with brainwash.

    Leave it. Backpack through europe for a summer. LU will still exist when you get back. Read books that LU doesn’t trust you to read on your own. Go to real science museums and volunteer and ask questions. Next summer, you can volunteer at the Page Museum here at the La Brea Tar Pits. You can DIG FOR YOURSELF and look for dinosaur bones!

    QUESTION authority. Heck, I’d question their very sanity. But question what you know and how you know it. It may be your only hope.

    God, if He exists, did not give you a brain and an inquiring mind for you to turn it off.

    Really, question them, and read the stuff they don’t want you to know!

  • Karen

    Just because you, or Dawkins, or anyone believe the earth is millions of years old does not make it to be true.

    Exactly right! Nobody should be able to make a personal belief claim, or a faith-based claim, and expect others to buy it. It needs to be backed up with evidence. That’s the scientific method at work!

    The reason science asserts that the earth is billions (not millions ;-) ) of years old is because for the last couple hundred years studies have been made, measurements taken, research projects funded, arguments vociferously stated, knowledge gained, hypotheses proposed – disproved – rejected – and new hypotheses dreamed up and tested again.

    And scientific consensus, over decades of study, writing, comparing notes in laboratories all over the world, is eventually reached. It’s not anybody’s personal “belief” or faith claim – not mine or Dawkins’ or any other individual’s. It’s an understanding based on evidence. And it’s provisional: That means new instruments, new methodologies, improved measurements may be taken in the future that will further refine the dating and give us better knowledge.

    But no one who understands science – absolutely no one – thinks the world is thousands of years old. The “professors” at LU who claim it is don’t have proper scientific evidence for that claim because there is none. They may have lots of complicated-sounding theories that make sense intuitively, but they don’t have good evidence.

    Look into it for yourself. Go visit those dinosaur bones on campus and research what’s known from science (not LU science, real science) about those bones. What species did they come from? Where’d it live? When? How do paleontologists know how old they are? Why?

    Using your brain, and I’m sure you’ve got a good one, to think for yourself and find the information first-hand (not from Caner) will be an eye-opener for you. You might just learn that lots and lots of Christians (the majority of Christians in the world) have no problem with the scientific method, the accurate dating of the earth or the acceptance of evolution. Think about that! What you’re learning at LU isn’t mainstream science – and it isn’t even mainstream Christianity! It’s a tiny, completely discredited bunch of nonsense. Do just a little bit of outside reading, and you’ll discover that very, very quickly.

    I do not know if you have ever read the Bible, or truly studied it, but I challenge you to do this. I pray that you discover the Way, Truth, and Life that is Jesus Christ.

    I’ve read the bible, Tom. In fact, I’ve taught ladies bible studies. I’ve found Jesus. I was a born-again, evangelical, bible-believing Christian, raised in a family with ideas and beliefs probably very much like your own.

    It took me 30 years to discover that I’d been indoctrinated, taught to close my mind and never “rely on my own understanding” (i.e., think for myself). By the time I realized this, I was close to 40. Many of my life’s crucial decisions had been made based on false premises. Un-doing the damage has been a wrenching, five-year process. I only wish I’d had a chance to get outside the box of fundamentalist religion when I was your age.

    By the way, there’s a discussion board where these kinds of issues are talked over by a terrific group of believers and nonbelievers regularly. Come visit if you want to continue the conversation: http://off-the-map.org/ebayatheist/